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Does Italy lack culinary relevance?


Fat Guy
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Macrosan - I commend you for a noble answer and its respectable attempt to honor the Italian tradition of dining and cuisine. And it is all true as well. But whether it applies to the original question depends on the definition of the word "gourmets" and what they like to eat. If you are willing to call Chez Panisse etc. "modern gastronomy," sure it has much relevance. But if the definition of the term is those restaurants who create, and/or adapt, the latest techniques in cooking, your answer doesn't apply. And I'm not even representing what Fat Guy meant because there is room for both answers. But, I'm not sure why people like Tony are being so stubborn when they refuse to admit that if "gourmets" is defined as people who are interested in modern cooking technique, that it is very easy to conclude that it isn't extremely relevant.

Robert S. - Thank you for that clarification. As you have written, the practice of haute cuisine is not to be confused with other styles of cooking or dining. So if we infer (haute cuisine and its derivitives) onto Fat Guy's question, we can answer it a certain way. And if we don't draw that inference you can answer it another way.

Dom - Your post is funny. It reminds me that whenever I look at the menu of a Chinese restaurant in Paris and I see "Raviolis de Crustace ala Vapeur," they really mean steamed shrimp wontons :biggrin:.

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Right,now that others are back on thread. I think you'd be hard put to find a dictionary definition of "gourmet" which mentions the word "technique" or "modern cooking technique"

The most commonly held definition is "one who appreciates and enjoys good food and drink" or some such.

Given that widely held definition, Macrosan's lucid answer to Fat Guy's original question holds completely.

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Did you ever consider that I'm right and that the reason you don't know that it is because you haven't eaten in any of these places?

OK Steve I admit it. Your culinary credentials are bigger than my culinary credentials............................................But I bet my dad's are bigger than your dad's!

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The most commonly held definition is "one who appreciates and enjoys good food and drink" or some such.

Yes of course if that is what Fat Guy meant. But Fat Guy modified the definition of gourmets by saying as it applies to "modern gastronomy." In that context if modern gastronomy means "latest technique," how does Macrosan's answer apply. Or why don't you just tell me what "modern gastronomy" means?

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Yes, it does seem that this whole discussion balances on what is considered as 'gourmet' - is it cooking with ultra-fresh ingredients? is it Asia fusion (i.e. spaghetti with Thai mussels in a Wasabi sauce!), is it only innovative food (in other words all the old favourites are 'out'), is it a price thing?

I recently had a Carpaccio of squid which consisted of wafer-thin slices of squid (so thin that you could almost see through it) with a wonderful drizzle on top which was really memorable- one of the best dishes I've tasted in years - was this gourmet? (after all the chef told me that he had started early that day as the slicing of the squid was important, time-consuming and a very delicate procedure). This was Italian (it Italy).

Yes, Steve, I've been to four of the restaurants in the Gambero list but I wasn't over-impressed as I don't really think that that's Italian cuisine. They serve food that I don't really want when I go for an Italian meal so there's a problem with semantics here.

One further thing just to put the cat amongst the pigeons: a recent survey of customers in London put service as 44% of the total satisfaction of a dinner (the food was only 8%). That's an incredible statistic and, if true, shows how shallow people really are BUT, having said that, the difference between the comfort zone of a French and Italian irestaurant is amazing.

I went to a Michelin in Chamonix and, although the place was empty, the Maitre D' huffed and puffed and looked around and sighed before finally leading us to a table (the place was not full that night) and gave us a menu with a sniff. The next night I went through the tunnel to Courmayer in Italy and the restaurant I vsited was packed to the gills of everyone having a wonderful time, the Padrone instead of huffing and puffing assured me that he would find me something and did and me and my partner had a wonderful meal in a place that wanted us.

Which, Steve, is 'gourmet'??

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Peter - All of your arguments, Macrosan's arguments and Tony's arguments are about the definition of the words. All of you want to do nothing else but to prove that the inference that I am drawing (and which many other people here drew as well) is not the exclusive definition of those words.

WE ALL AGREE ABOUT THAT

But what we also said is that using our definition, high end Italian food does not have much relevance to people. Nobody seems to be rushing to eat at the restaurants. Nobody seems to be writing articles about the food. And I haven't seen any of the chefs on TV, in magazines or in newspapers. In fact you ate at 4 of the "relevant" restaurants yourself and didn't like them. If we agree on that, there really is nothing more to say about it unless you (and the others) keep insisting that I can't use my definitions. And if that is the case, please read the thread and you will find that there is an entire cast of people who have accepted them. So I don't know what to tell you. The fact that you can get a good plate of spaghetti and meatballs or fried calamari has nothing to do with the fact that, Ferran Adria, Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller, Nobu, and countless other chefs

DO NOT COME FROM ITALY.

In fact if you were to make a list of the top 50 chefs in the world, it is questionable that a single Italian would make the list. That's what some of us have been talking about and I don't see how you telling me that your squid dish was delicious responds to that point. Nobody but people who are diehards for Italian cuisine is paying any attention to that dish. That isn't a matter of opinion. It's a fact.

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In fact if you were to make a list of the top 50 chefs in the world, it is questionable that a single Italian would make the list. That's what some of us have been talking about and I don't see how you telling me that your squid dish was delicious responds to that point. Nobody but people who are diehards for Italian cuisine is paying any attention to that dish. That isn't a matter of opinion. It's a fact.

Problem, Steve. When you say the top 50 chefs in the world, you need to use the qualifiers that put you in the realm of the inference you have drawn from the original question. Chances are good that there are many more people who don't give a damn about oysters and pearls, or whatever the hell it is, or about going to Gagnaire, than there are people who don't give a damn about the squid dish. It would be better if you said "the top fifty haute cuisiniers". I can think of ten Italian cooks I'd choose to eat with in any list of the top fifty, and there are probably a lot more. Then there are Mexicans, Chinese and so many other brilliant cuisiniers who don't fit your criteria. You haven't heard of any of them and you never will. Which is fine, but I do think you should specify your criteria each time you make a statement like that. Besides, and I think this is relevant (you should excuse the expression), Italians tend to be great cooks; the French, adhering to their system, tend to be great chefs, a big difference.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Just to show you how facile the arguments are in this thread. You say the following;

Problem, Steve. When you say the top 50 chefs in the world

And in your last sentence you then say the following;

Italians tend to be great cooks; the French, adhering to their system, tend to be great chefs, a big difference

Well if you notice, I originally said the 50 top chefs. And my choice of words was a specific one. When I said it, I didn't mean home chefs. And I didn't mean chefs in school cafeterias. And I didn't mean chefs on cruise ships. The inference of who I meant was obvious, yet I have to defend it from other inferences. "Chefs" are people who cook in what we would consider as restaurants on the "haute cuisine" level. Are there any other types of chefs we ever talk about?

I don't understand what the problem with saying that, Italy has completely failed to produce chefs or restaurants that are as well known or influential as chefs and restaurants in most every other country that has an upper middle class. I look at that as a huge failure on the part of Italian cuisine. And I also think it is too bad and something that should be corrected. And constantly telling me that I can get a plate of fresh and delicious calamari there isn't responsive to that point. I already know the calamari is great there. I've been there 10 times and I've eaten many a good meal. But all the "haute cuisine" type meals I've eaten there while fine, are disappointing when I impose the same standards I would impose on a place like Gagnaire or the French Laundry.

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That isn't a matter of opinion. It's a fact.

No, Steve, it's your opinion.

Furthermore you seem to equate TV Chefs with 'gourmet'. You must be talking about the UK as I have seen many TV shows in Italy with top Italian chefs - so what?

You didn't address my point about ambiente either.

PS Carpaccio of Pulpo is NOT Calamare.

PSS By your posting you have demonstrated your depth of knowledge of cuisine in Italy: I have NEVER seen Spaghetti and Meat Balls on an Italian restaurant in Italy! That's an American dish, didn't you know that Steve? Oh, sorry, I lied, I did see it offered once on a menu in a Holiday Inn in Rome, it was called Spaghetti Alla Perla (Pearl) and the waiter (who was very embarassed) said it was created especially for the Americans as that is what they expect in an Italian restaurant!

Based on the above I do not feel you have the necessary experience to talk constructively about Italian food in Italy.

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Italy has completely failed to produce chefs or restaurants that are as well known or influential as chefs and restaurants in most every other country that has an upper middle class. I look at that as a huge failure on the part of Italian cuisine. And I also think it is too bad and something that should be corrected.

Wrong again. The number of "highly influential" chefs who are not either from France or working square in the French tradition is minute. I know Spain has one or two now and Britain has a couple etc. but the numbers are tiny compared to France. This is because the cult of the chef is a French thing.

I had one of the finest meals of my life in 1990 in the Oberoi Hotel in Bombay. When I asked who the chef was and could I meet him to congratulate him seven people came out. I asked who was in charge. There was a lot of shy smiling and the answer came "No-one really" Now actually I don't think for a second that that was true and it probably wouldn't happen now,but it was indicative of how the notion of the master chef was alien to them at that particular time.

Unlike you I do not see this so called "failure" on Italy's part as a failure at all.We already said pages ago that in fashion and design they are at the cutting edge but from cuisine they are interested in other values. They don't particularly want it "corrected" thank you very much. To someone so locked into a particular notion of dining it might seem a failure,but despite your constantly claiming that others agree with you it would appear from the evidence that you are in a minority of...er....one.

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Chefs don't cook, hardly ever. They run kitchens, or they run businesses. This is is a characteristic of haute cuisine and is an important difference with the Italian approach, so ok, by the French definition and reality of a chef, there likely would not be an Italian in the top 50. The "facile" comment was, well, forget it.

When you say, "Italy has completely failed to produce chefs or restaurants that are as well known or influential as chefs and restaurants in most every other country that has an upper middle class.", you are overstating the case. To say that this is a huge failure on the part of Italian cuisine is to demand that Italian cuisine (the full scope of which, in all of its ramifications, social, political and economic, you are not familiar) conform to a configuration to which it is not suited and to which it does not aspire. This is like insisting that the square peg be jammed into the round hole, or be damned in the trying.

I will say this:

"Italy has not produced chefs or restaurants that are as well known or influential in the realm of haute cuisine as France or Spain."

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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PS Carpaccio of Pulpo is NOT Calamare.

PSS By your posting you have demonstrated your depth of knowledge of cuisine in Italy:

Based on the above I do not feel you have the necessary experience to talk constructively about Italian food in Italy.

I recently had a Carpaccio of squid which consisted of wafer-thin slices of squid (so thin that you could almost see through it) with a wonderful drizzle on top which was really memorable- one of the best dishes I've tasted in years - was this gourmet? (after all the chef told me that he had started early that day as the slicing of the squid was important, time-consuming and a very delicate procedure). This was Italian (it Italy).

Peter - I though we had a chat about getting our facts straight before attacking others? :biggrin:

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Peter P. - The dish you mentioned has gotten no publicity that I know of, I and nobody seems to be talking about it. In fact there aren't *any* Italian chefs who the international food scene seems to be interested in, nor have they created dishes people seem to be interested in. That isn't my opinion, it's an observation of what the facts are. Of course you can disprove me and tell me one Italian chef or dish he created that people are talking about.

Tony - I don't care whether they want it corrected, I want it corrected. I'm the customer and I want them to deliver the goods. They deliver the goods in France, they deliver them in Spain, and in far more then 2 places these days, they are starting to deliver them in the U.K. and in the U.S., Australia, Japan, etc. They are generally not delivering them on the haute cuisine level in Italy. And for you to say they don't want to correct it is bullshit. They must have 300 restaurants in the category trying to get it right. None of them, aboslutely zero have had any impact on the culinary world in the last 10 years.

Robert S. - I used facile as in the facility to change positions easily. Not to accuse you of being simpleminded. I didn't even know that use of the word existed. My apologies if you took it the wrong way.

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I don't care whether they want it corrected, I want it corrected. I'm the customer and I want them to deliver the goods. They deliver the goods in France, they deliver them in Spain, and in far more then 2 places these days, they are starting to deliver them in the U.K. and in the U.S., Australia, Japan, etc. They are generally not delivering them on the haute cuisine level in Italy. And for you to say they don't want to correct it is bullshit. They must have 300 restaurants in the category trying to get it right. None of them, aboslutely zero have had any impact on the culinary world in the last 10 years.

Memo to Italy: Get cracking! Steve has spoken.

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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Robert S. - I used facile as in the facility to change positions easily. Not to accuse you of being simpleminded. I didn't even know that use of the word existed. My apologies if you took it the wrong way.

As I've said, I took no offense. I usually prefer to put my own foot in my mouth.

I would just say that, rather than changing positions easily, I would call it learning as I go and failing to clean up behind myself. I think the cook/chef distinction is an interesting avenue for investigation, particularly as regards economic and social differences between France and Italy and their respective restaurant cultures.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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I think the cook/chef distinction is an interesting avenue for investigation, particularly as regards economic and social differences between France and Italy and their respective restaurant cultures.

You mean why did the French create a level of artisan that didn't exist in the Italian system? Money. Which is what we keep coming back to. Haute cuisine, like Pierre Charreau homes and furniture, is a function of a middle class with discretionary income. Like I asked earlier, show me the Italian equivelant of creations like the Maison du Verre. I think it's the same in all countries where a culinary revolution took place. The U.S., U.K., Spain, etc. Burgeoning upper middle classes with lots of discretionary income to spend on what were historically luxury items.

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I think it's the same in all countries where a culinary revolution took place. The U.S., U.K., Spain, etc. Burgeoning upper middle classes with lots of discretionary income to spend on what were historically luxury items.

So either

1. Food is not historically 'a luxury item' in Italy.

or

2. Italy has a much less significant UMC with lots of discretionary income than say, Spain.

Both of which one might question.

Wilma squawks no more

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While accepting that there are a couple of "relevant" restaurants in Spain right now I'm not sure you can argue from that that Spain as a whole is any more "relevant" than Italy. Those restaurants in Catalonia appear to have less to do with Spain and more to do with a kind of pan European culinary avant garde movement. Lizzie's description on the France thread makes it clear that her favourite place on the trip,while brilliant,was not "French",any more than The Fat Duck can be described as British.

These restaurants happen to be in these countries but they are not OF these countries in the sense that they say anything about cuisine in general in those countries.

And as for countries with an Upper Middle Class. More of them don't have cutting edge restaurants than do. Does Germany have them? Or Austia? How about Norway,Sweden, Denmark?

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Jones you are thinking like a mathematician. Just because Italy did not create a level of artisans that catered to a UMC doesn't mean they didn't have one. Agreed that it is likely the case but not necessarily. It could have been cultural reasons that kept them from expressing themselves in that manner. But if you look at the decorative arts of the early 20th century. the French are at the head of the class. Yes there are designers and architects from other countires who made an impact, but a large percentage of them are French. Do you find it surprising that their cooking proficiency developed contemporaneously with their development in other decoravtive arts? And why do you think that is? Remember this is going on between the wars. When the Brits started eating pie again. And when the Spaniards and Italians were headed towards putting Fascist governments in place.

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The discussion might now benefit from a turn towards Tonyfinch's remark that advanced restaurants in Spain and England, for example, are in these countries, but not OF them. Might it not be the case that indigenous cooking in these countries is no further along than it is in Italy, and perhaps less so? Is Tonyfinch on to something when he talks about a "pan European culinary avant garde movement". Is this movement, if it exists, influenced by the French approach to chefdom and restauranteurship (is that a word?). Maybe FG's original question might now be seen as whether any European country's cuisine is relevant to the greater wave that is sweeping over haute cuisine as it is practiced in countries other than France.

By the way, Steve, Italian furniture and decorative arts of the 20th century has long been a well-kept, spectacular secret, maybe for reasons related to this discussion. Also, I don't know anyone in the middle class who can afford Pierre Chareau.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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The discussion might now benefit from a turn towards Tonyfinch's remark ....about a  "pan European culinary avant garde movement".

If indeed the discussion does turn in that direction, could we not just talk about individual European countries ? In my experience, the European countries have so little in common with one another, that the very term pan-European is pan-oxymoronic.

By the way, Steve, Italian furniture and decorative arts of the 20th century has long been a well-kept, spectacular secret...

Irony ? :unsure: That's a secret, it seems, only to one person I've heard of. :wink:

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By the way, Steve, Italian furniture and decorative arts of the 20th century has long been a well-kept, spectacular secret, maybe for reasons related to this discussion. Also, I don't know anyone in the middle class who can afford Pierre Chareau

Robert - Gee did I say that they (the Italians) didn't have good 20th century furniture and decorative arts? I just said that they didn't elevate their artisans to the same extent that the French did. And architects and designers like Charreau worked in large part for an upper middle class clientele. How about rue Mallet-Stevens in the 16th arrondisment? A street of upper middle class houses. Or Corbusier houses built for private clients in Paris and the South? The point isn't that French decorative arts and cuisine was superior (even though that might be the case,) the point is that the French created flourishing industries around special craftsmen in those fields to a far greater extent then any other country in Europe. It's the same for Austrian decorative arts dating from the turn of the century isn't it? Someone should do a quick study to see if cooking techniques that were devised for the Mitteleuropa cuisine championed by people like David Bouley were developed contemporaneously with that period of decorative arts.

As for modern cuisine being indiginous versus it being international, why do you think that is? What about the cuisines of Spain, Italy and a few other countries made them not conducive to invent a higher tier of technique to be applied to traditional cooking philosophy? Only two things stick out to me. Like Italy, Spain's national dish relies on starch which isn't conducive for haute cuisine, and their inability to be able to afford good quality meat and poultry, and their inability (because of lack of affordability) to serve them whole or in large slices. That and the fact that during the most formative period of French applied arts (1920-1940,) those countries were in the throes of fascism. Look at Germany and what the Nazis did to the Bauhaus. Do you think German food fared much better then Kandinsky did?

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Like Italy, Spain's national dish relies on starch which isn't conducive for haute cuisine, and their inability to be able to afford good quality meat and poultry, and their inability (because of lack of affordability) to serve them whole or in large slices.

Jamon?

Wilma squawks no more

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